Printable version

3 key takeaways: Learners with SEND and the future of apprenticeships

The fourth live show in our #FutureOfApprenticeships series with FE News recently took place, exploring how we can better support learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as they embark on apprenticeships. 

The episode featured an impressive panel of expert speakers: 

  • Gavin O’Meara, Founder and CEO of FE News 
  • Suzanne Slater, Director of Operations for Apprenticeships at NCFE 
  • Charlotte Jones, Operations/Project Manager at Greater Manchester Learning Provider Network (GMLPN
  • Louise Karwowski, Director of Education at Cognassist

Here, we recap three key points from the discussion. 

1. Apprenticeships and ensuring equal opportunity 

Suzanne kicked off the episode by highlighting the recent SEND review, which outlines the Government’s determination “to level up opportunities for all children and young people – without exception”. Its purpose is to ensure the provision of equal opportunity for learners with SEND to go on to thrive and be prepared for life, and Suzanne believes that for those with hidden barriers, an apprenticeship is a great way to give that extra support that an individual might need. 

She explained: “I think the apprenticeship provides more of a safe environment, where there’s a lot more mentorship from the training provider and the employer, and there’s a larger support mechanism around that apprentice to enable them to thrive, develop and achieve. 

“Apprenticeships provide that real support, that learning, and that mentorship – but in a work environment. Learners with SEND can get that additional support and guidance and develop new knowledge and skills, but it’s also about developing those key skills and behaviours that are expected in the workplace – because those skills are not only transferable in the workplace, but throughout life as well.” 

2. Improving inclusivity in the education community 

It’s clear that traditional pathways aren’t always necessarily suitable for learners with hidden barriers – so what can we do as an education community, specifically within apprenticeships, to improve inclusivity? 

Charlotte Jones suggests that communication passports are something that individuals can create for themselves that can be really helpful: “The passports detail learning needs but, not only that, can get them talking about strategies to be able to overcome them in the workplace. Having that clear message from the individual at the get-go saying ‘I really understand my needs, and this is what I can do to be able to overcome them – but this is what you can do as a potential employer to support me’ is something that is definitely worth looking at.” 

Empowerment of learners is also key, says Charlotte, as not every individual will feel comfortable or want to go to an employer and explain their specific learning needs – so, what can we do through our use of language to break barriers, but also through changing culture? 

3. Education, asking for help and changing the current culture 

Education is key to achieving this empowerment, says Louise Karwowski, who explains that we need to take a two-pronged approach that considers both the learner and the support they require, as well as a culture change on the employer’s part. 

She explains: “Employers shouldn’t be afraid to encourage all types of diversity to apply and be supported correctly in employment. There is a stigma and we do need a culture change – and it starts with conversations such as this, where we talk about language and what works or doesn’t.” 

Louise’s takeaway to employers is an important one: “It’s okay to ask and to ask for clarity, for support and training – and awareness as well!” 

The more that we can do to support employers in terms of education, including the likes of adaptations to working environments, says Suzanne, is going to help remove the element of fear from an employer’s perspective. Having a neurodiverse person on the inside to ask questions is also incredibly powerful. 

Finishes Charlotte: “If you’re changing the culture of the employer, that is a legacy that will continue – it won’t be just for that one apprentice, but for any neurodiverse individual [who follows]. Employers are a key part of this!” 

Want to hear more from our panel as they explore topics such as ensuring equality and quality in initial assessments for learners with SEND? You can catch up on the full episode below:

Be sure to join us for our fifth episode on apprenticeships and EPA at 10am on Thursday 17 November by tuning in on the FE News website or YouTube channel. You can also join in the discussion using #FutureOfApprenticeships on social media. 


Channel website:

Original article link:

Share this article

ncfe logo
T: 0191 239 8000
F: 0191 239 8001

Collaborate Twitter @NCFE



About NCFE


Centre Information



Latest News from

Public Service Insights: Effectively Onboarding New Employees With An Intranet